A rice farm in Narra town, southern Palawan. | Photo courtesy of Tenggoy Sarmiento

Narra’s rice farmers knew it was going to be another tough season because of the pandemic but they did not anticipate palay prices in Palawan’s main rice-producing region to dive that low at this time, with farmgate prices averaging at P10 per kilo and in some cases even dipping at P7.

“Iyan na nga ang nakakalungkot sa side namin na mga farmer lalo na noong dumaan na tag-ulan, sobrang baba nyan, umabot na sa P10 o P10.50 dahil sa sobrang ulan. Iyong price naman na P12 ay utang pa ‘yon na minsan ay umaabot sa isang buwan kaya masyadong kawawa ang farmers sa panahon ngayon,” Estrelita Quiampo-Galera, president of the Narra’s Farmers’ Association (NFA) and former president of Provincial Farmers Association Council (PFAC), told Palawan News.

Galera understood she couldn’t blame entirely the traders, those buying their harvests. Having been in the business for decades, she knew there are reasons they cannot go higher. Still, even with economic factors brought about by the pandemic, she is puzzled by the wide margins on buying prices compared to last year.

“Kapag inabot ng ulan ang pag-aani ng palay, sobra ang baba ng bili ng traders natin pero hindi naman sana talaga dapat. Kasi kung tutuusin, kulang nga sa supply. Sa nagdaang pandemic halos maubos ang bigas, hindi rin namin maintindihan bakit sobrang baba ang bili ng traders ngayon,” she complained.

Elsewhere in the country’s main palay producing regions such as the Cagayan Valley, the Department of Agriculture (DA) has been blowing its horn over farmgate prices averaging as high as P19 per kilo during the last quarter of the pandemic year. The prevailing prices, agriculture secretary William Dar said in September, were actually higher compared to the same period last year when the health situation was normal.

The situation in Palawan is way different, and bad. It is affecting over 30,000 rice farmers that are dependent on palay farming, according to records of the Office of the Provincial Agriculture (OPA). This represents an estimated 11,000 families whose economic condition is generally described to be below the poverty threshold.

According to the PFAC, the cost of producing palay in Palawan is pegged at P13.00 per kilo while the buying price hovers at a pitiful P9 on bad days and P12.50 per kilo on a good day.

Provincial lawmakers, while aware of the palay pricing dynamics in the island province, have had to resort to resolutions directly appealing to traders and buyers to buy at fairer prices.

“Prices right now range between P7 to P10 only. We appeal to the rice millers and the traders (to buy at a fair price) even if we understand these prices are determined by the law of supply and demand. We hope they will comply,” Board Member Albert Rama said after the provincial board passed a resolution on the matter in October.

 

Lack of drying facilities

Vicente Binasahan, the local agriculture department’s Agricultural Program Coordinating Officer (APCO) points out that while farmgate prices naturally go down during the harvest season, palay farmers in Palawan tend to sell their produce without properly drying them, a situation they arguably can control but could not because they have little to no access to efficient dryers.

“We cannot control supply and demand, but what I’ve been telling farmers is that the main cause of their problem is the lack of support facilities such as dryers. Ang sinasabi ko naman sa ating mga magsasaka na isang factor diyan ay ‘yong post-harvest facilities natin, number one ‘yong drying facilities natin,” Binasahan said.

 

 

He added that there are instances that farmers could not immediately sell their palay due to the absence of a drying facility as buyers like traders require dry palay before buying. This leads to cheap buying prices, leaving farmers with no other option but to sell.

“May instances kasi na ang ating mga magsasaka ay hindi nila maibenta agad ang kanilang mga palay dahil walang drying facilities. Kapag walang drying facility, ang tendency ay babaratin ng traders kasi hindi nila ma-i-dry. Wala silang option, hindi mo puwedeng itago ng basa. Kailangan dry talaga siya before siya i-store,” Binasahan said.

“Ang actual na nangyayari sa mga magsasaka since kulang sila sa drying facility, ang tendency ay after harvest ay benta agad, kaya mura talaga ang pagkakabili. At isa pa, sa oras na na-delay ang drying, of course, affected ang quality, that’s the time na bababa na naman ang presyo,” he added.

Galera also noted that traders are buying at a low price because of the poor moisture content of the palay caused by improper drying.

“Kinukulang kasi sila sa mechanical dryer and alam naman natin kapag ang palay ay may damage na, hindi na rin ganoon kaganda ang bigas. Magiging mura rin ang bigas nila. Talagang kino-compute ng traders ‘yan. Masakit man isipin na masyado kaming apektado bilang farmers kasi hindi rin naman nagpapalugi ang traders. Alam natin na namumuhunan din sila at sa mahal na rin ngayon ng materyales na ginagamit nila,” she said.

Aside from traders, the National Food Authority (NFA) is also buying palay from local farmers as it intensified its local procurement with P19 buying price to comply with its retained mandate securing the emergency buffer stock. However, NFA Palawan also has a limited number of drying facilities that could cater to farmers. It also encourages farmers to sell dry palay or with at least 14 percent moisture content which would be good enough to retain quality from storing palay before milling.

Binasahan said he is aware of the need for drying facilities, but also stated that out of machinery and equipment requests the local DA has received from farmers, only five percent is for drying facility.

Most of the requests are intended for pre-production facilities such as tractors for land preparation before planting and harvester during the production.

“Kasi sa amin naman ay dumidepende kami sa requests nila. Sinabi ko rin during orientation na pag-request ninyo, isama niyo rin ‘yong drying facilities sa halip na mag-request kayo ng traktora. Kasi limited ang resources natin, hindi naman pwede na lahat ng requests nila ay ma-provide ng DA dahil nga limited ang budget ng DA,” he said.

If mechanical drying facilities are the needs of farmers, they should prioritize it in their requests, he added.

 

 

“Ang nangyayari kung papapiliin natin sila kung traktora, harvester, uunahin talaga nila ‘yong sa land preparation. Tayo naman sa DA, palibhasa limited ‘yong ating resources, kung ano ‘yong kanilang request ay iyon ay pinagbibigyan natin kaya nahuhuli ang harvest facilities pero siguro itong mga susunod na panahon tulad ng drying facilities ay puwede na ma-provide ng DA ‘yan,” he said.

He said that his office cannot give the amount allocated for the farm mechanization of Palaweño farmers as they endorse requests and the budget releases come from their regional office.

He added that the department has limited sources and could not provide all the farm mechanization requests of a certain farmers’ association, cooperative, or irrigators’ association. It takes a year before requests will be distributed to groups given the process followed by the DA.

Binasahan also believes that the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) which was created from Republic Act 11203 or Rice Tariffication Law in 2018 could help to aid the insufficiency with drying facilities wherein 50 percent of the P10 billion in RCEF is allotted to farm mechanization.

Jayson Prudente, an NFA economist, adds that the primary struggle of farmers is the insufficient number of mechanical drying facilities and storage facilities during their harvest season.

“Particularly mechanical dryers at post-harvest facilities na struggle nila ay storage facilities, ang number one talaga ay drying talaga. Iyong drying ay madi-determine din nila ‘yong quality, if we are lacking sa drying facilities, prone sa deterioration ang produce ng farmers, maapektuhan din ang selling price nila dahil di na rin nila pwede ibenta to the full extent,” Prudente said.

 

NFA intervention

As farmers left with no other choice but to sell their palay to traders, the latter gains command power to dictate what price they could get the palay of farmers.

NFA Palawan officer-in-charge Marita Abadilla describes the common situation among farmers who are forced by circumstances to sell their produce to traders.

“Hindi sila nakapagtutuyo ng palay sa pamamagitan ng init ng araw but sa mechanical dryers kung saan ang pag-aari ito ng negosyante. Papasok doon na ang palay ng farmers, mapipilitan silang ibenta sa mga negosyante na may mechanical dryers. Doon na papasok ‘yong sinasabing mababang pamimili ng traders, iyan talaga ang problema ng farmers,” Abadilla said.

Abadilla said that their buying price also pushes traders to increase their prices especially at times they knew that there is a good harvest.

“Kailangan maramdaman ng mga magsasaka na nandito kami,” she said.

Abadilla ruled out speculations that a local cartel has been responsible for the lowering of palay buying prices. She admitted however that in certain circumstances such as the hiring of barges to transport rice, the traders pul their resources together.

 

PN file photo

There are some traders or businessmen na nagsasama-sama ng kanilang resources to afford barge kasi may minimum volume na pwede ikarga kung gusto nila na isang barge sabihin mon a 20,000 bags of palay pero hindi naman ganon kalalaki ang traders o businessmen dito sa Palawan,” she said.

“Pero hindi pa rin cartel, nagpu-pull lang sila ng kanilang resources para ma-afford ‘yong suppliers nila. Kasi ang gusto nila i-take advantage naman ‘yong murang imported rice na maganda ang quality pero not to the level na magiging cartel ‘yong influence nila,” he said.

In 2019, NFA central office also set a target of 550,000 palay for the local office and attained around 234, 267 bags of palay.

Abadilla admits that their target is “not attainable” and that they could at most buy around 300,000 bags.

“Iyong 500,000 na iyan ay hindi attainable, iyon ang totoo. Ang attainable namin ay nasa 300 plus so considering sa attainable number of bags na aming supposedly ay target,” she said.

“Tingin ko naman lagi naman namin at least na-o-optimize kung hindi man namin ma-maximize kasi ang dami rin naman figures, pero kita rin naman sa figures ang na-i-exert namin na effort,” Prudente added.

 

Government’s intervention

Binasahan said that during the first month of the pandemic, the movement of farmers was restricted which affected their production. The DA had a “Plant, Plant, Plant program” to help not just the farming industry but also boost the fisheries and livestock sector to secure food sufficiency. Under the program is the support for fertilizer for plants for nitrogen.

“Sabi ng DA na para ma-assure ‘yong increase ng production ay i-assure din namin sa inyo ang pangangailangan niyo sa nitrogen kasi baka mamaya di sila mag-apply ng nitrogenous fertilizer, madi-defeat ‘yong purpose ng program kaya may binibigay sa inbred na two bags per hectare at sa hybrid ay three bags per hectare kasi mas mataas yong fertilizer requirement,” he said.

Binasahan said farmers could buy from accredited agricultural supply stores and the expenses be reimbursed by the DA through the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) and MLhullier.

But while Galera acknowledged the interventions provided by the government, such efforts remain insufficient. She said that subsidies extended by DA are still late to come and they still have to spend their own money and wait for reimbursement.

“Meron naman silang (DA) na mga tulong sa farmers pero hindi pa rin sapat kasi syempre sa obserbasyon ko rito sa pag-iikot-ikot ko sa mga kasamahan ko na farmers, madalas huli rin ang dating mga subsidy na binibigay ng gobyerno. Kami muna ang magfi-finance bago i-refund sa amin, (kaya) kailangan talaga namin mamuhunan,” she said. “Sa kabuuhan lang kung titingnan natin mabuti na pag-aralan, walang ibang mabuting solusyon dito kung hindi tumulong ang goberyno sa pagtaas nila ng presyo ng palay sa farmers. Kung tutuusin na laging late din sila tumulong, magbigay ng fertilizer, kailangan na muna namin i-finance at saka i-reimburse ‘yong halaga kung magkano ‘yan. Kulang ng mga P100 to P200 per bags,” she added.

 

File photo by Ellaine Sumagaysay

She further said that due to late subsidies of the government, farmers are pushed to borrow money from traders to purchase their immediate needs such as fertilizer. And because of the loans they incur, Galera said that they have no choice but to follow any buying price that the trader would impose.

It is also one factor of the low farm gate price of palay and Galera said that this kind of situation is one of the painful phases of farming.

“Madalas ang mga farmer, napagsasamantalahan ng ibang traders. Hindi ko naman nilalahat . Kasi ang farmers minsan ay kapit ‘yan sa patalim, kung kailangan na nila ng abono at wala pa ang subsidy ng gobyerno, kailangan mangutang ng farmer para maka-survive ‘yong tanim, makapag-spray, makapag-abono,” she said.

“Kapag kami nangutang sa trader, automatic ‘yon namin yon ibibigay kasi iyon ang usapan, wala kaming kawala sa trader kasi iyon ang usapan kung iyon ang gusto nila, wala kami magagawa kasi may utang kami sa kanila. Iyan ang pinakamasakit na parte sa farmers talaga,” she said.

 

Request for soil analysis

Galera also pointed out a need for a soil analysis to see if the rice varieties given by DA are suitable with the land type of certain areas where farmlands are located. She said that soil analysis will be helpful to see if any newly developed varieties will fit with their land type.

“Gusto ko rin managawan sa concerned agency lalo na sa DA na magkaroon sila ng technician na magka-conduct ng soil analysis. Sa anihan na ito, ang daming failure ngayon sa variety na hindi naman akma sa lupa. Mag-conduct muna sila ng soil analysis para makita kung pupwede diyan yong Rc18 nila, magagandang variety iyan at ‘yong mga bagong developed nila na variety ngayon,” she said.

Recently, DA-Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) encouraged farmers to plant premium varieties that also command higher market prices, which include NSIC Rc218, Rc160, and Rc216. It further explained in a previous statement that farmers will earn an average of P1.50 per kilogram depending on quality when they sell dry palay.

Binasahan said that even around 2005, DA is visiting farmers for soil analysis and is providing technology that will improve their farming. At present, 90 percent of farmers are now giving importance to the significance of soil analysis.

Farmers could send their samples to their laboratory station in Barangay Irawan. They could also coordinate with the municipal agriculture offices (MAO) of different towns so the latter will forward the samples to the DA’s laboratory, he added.

He said that good quality of seeds also gave a noticeable increase with the harvest of local farmers, where from 40 cavans per hectare in 2005, it has increased to around 70 to 80 cavans per hectare at present.

Binasahan said that based on his observation, around 80 percent of farmers are now open with the mindset of planting hybrid seeds and said that the department might lessen the inbred seeds in 2021 and increase the hybrid for better output.

 

Palay sun drying.

“Ang hybrid kasi ay pwede mo i-double ang production compared don sa inbred. Tingin ko iyon ang way para mapunuan natin ang pangangailangan ng population natin na mataas na nag-increase. Iyong increment ng ating population ay talagang malaki. Iyan ang nakikita ko na solusyon. Kung didepende tayo sa inbred na ilan lang ang harvest, kukulangin talaga tayo sa ating pangangailangan sa buong Palawan,” he said.

“Matrabaho raw, magastos pero kung iko-compare mo ‘yong gastos versus sa magiging increment ng production, mas mataas. Mas magiging mataas ang profit mo, mataas man ang investment mo, ang cost pero kapag nagkaroon ng increment don sa production, mas mataas yong kikitain mo,” he added.

Galera, on the other hand, said that some farmers are afraid on trying hybrid seeds due to incompatibility with their land type, that is why she is pushing the need for soil analysis.

 

P24 buying price

Galera said that farmers’ expenses starting from pre-harvest to harvesting activities it will only be compensated buying price will be pegged at P24.

“Sana ay dagdagan pa rin talaga iyan, kung pwede nga lang sana ay bumaba sila para makita nila kung ano talaga ang tunay na kalagayan ng mga tao sa baba. Siguro para maka-cope up, sina-suggest namin na dagdagan sana nila ang presyo sa amin, gawin sana iyong matagal na namin hinihingi nong ako pa ang nakaupo, bigyan kami ng P24 per kilogram,” she said.

She said that P10.50 is a very low selling price from their end. With the inevitable decrease of farm gate price, farmers should at least sell their palay at P14.

“Another resolutions pa rin para maparating sa kinauukulan ang hinaing ng farmers, hindi naman natin sinasabi na hindi umaaksyon ang gobyerno kasi may P19 ang NFA at ang DA namimigay sila ng binhi. Hindi naman natin tinatawaran ang effort ng gobyerno. Na-a-appreciate din natin ‘yan pero hindi rin naman naging 100 percent. Sana ay pag-aralan nila ulit kung ano pa ang pwede gawin kasi nakita naman nila na ang farmers ay halos hindi makaangat,” she said.

While the farm gate price is still at P10.50, she encourages her fellow farmers to sell their palay to NFA with a P19 buying price so they could at least get a decent payout for their efforts.

“Wala kami ibang magagawa kung hindi ay magtanim uli. Sa susunod na pagkakataon, maganda na rin ang panahon, lalo ngayon na ngayon kami magtatanim, aani kami niyan ng February o March, ipapasok na lang muna namin sa NFA para makatikim-tikim kami ng magandang presyo. Kasi sa NFA, open pa rin sila bumili ng palay,” she said.

 

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is one of the junior reporters of Palawan News. She covers agriculture, business, and different feature stories. Her interests are collecting empty bottles, aesthetic earrings, and anything that is color yellow.